Vermilionville, Louisiana (renamed Lafayette in 1884) is the seat of Vermilion Parish. Located 15 miles west of the Atchafalaya Swamp and 35 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, it struggled after the Civil War because of the destruction of the state’s plantation economy. The town received a boost in the 1870s when two major railroads intersected there, facilitating the transport of local crops (particularly cotton and sugar) and cattle.
Among Vermilionville’s promoters at that time was John Young Gilmore (1838-1900). Born in Pennsylvania, Gilmore went to work as a printer at the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin [LCCN: sn86079017] in 1859. During the Civil War, he served in an Alabama regiment and was severely wounded. Afterwards, he returned to journalism, founding the Louisiana Sugar-Bowl [LCCN: sn85034338] in New Iberia in 1870 and the Louisiana Cotton-Boll two years later in nearby Vermilionville. He eventually moved the Sugar Bowl to New Orleans, where it became the Sugar Planters’ Journal [LCCN: sn89059258], one of the American sugar industry’s most important early publications.
Published weekly in four pages, the Cotton-Boll was originally half English, half French, the latter printed under the title Le “Cotton-Boll” de la Louisiane or Le Grabot de Coton de la Louisiane. By 1878, French-language content had virtually disappeared. Gilmore announced that the paper was “devoted to the cotton planting interest, immigration, education, and internal improvements.” The Cotton-Boll largely avoided politics, although in the presidential election of 1876, it endorsed Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden of New York and his running mate Thomas Hendricks of Indiana.
The paper’s content was miscellaneous, ranging from digests of local, national, and international news to general interest articles on various topics. Reports on agricultural developments are abundant, along with market reports and advertisements for local businesses. As a “home” newspaper, the Cotton-Boll also carried a selection of fiction, poetry, anecdotes, domestic advice, and religious reading, largely copied from other publications.
At present, the latest surviving copy of the Louisiana Cotton-Boll is from December 18, 1879, but the paper is thought to have continued publication until at least 1883.